SpaceX Provides Details On Its Massive Rocket’s Explosion
PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images

SpaceX revealed that the company’s massive Starship rocket exploded in a test flight because of a failure in the stage separation between the vessel and its booster.

Starship, the largest rocket constructed in the history of mankind, successfully climbed 24 miles from a SpaceX launch facility in Texas on Thursday morning. A livestream from the event showed that the rocket exploded amid the stage separation, after which the booster should have turned around and landed on the surface of the Earth.

SpaceX confirmed that the successful launch was followed by a “rapid unscheduled disassembly,” the term for an explosion preferred by chief executive Elon Musk.

“The vehicle experienced multiple engines out during the flight test, lost altitude, and began to tumble,” the company said in a statement. “The flight termination system was commanded on both the booster and ship. As is standard procedure, the pad and surrounding area was cleared well in advance of the test, and we expect the road and beach near the pad to remain closed until tomorrow.”

Musk said that employees “learned a lot” for the next test launch scheduled to occur in a few months. Engineers will indeed “continue to review data” ahead of the next flight, the firm said as executives congratulated team members “on an exciting first integrated flight test of Starship.”

Starship is nearly 400 feet long and has a liftoff mass of 5,500 tons. Both the Starship vessel and the Super Heavy booster are powered by Raptor engines, which burn liquid oxygen and liquid methane. The two components of the rocket are each capable of landing themselves on the surface of the Earth, while SpaceX plans to eventually refuel the vessels in low-Earth orbit in between departures to the moon and Mars.

“With a test like this, success comes from what we learn, and we learned a tremendous amount about the vehicle and ground systems today that will help us improve on future flights of Starship,” the statement from SpaceX continued.


The launch on Thursday was the second attempt this week to test Starship. Another launch initially slated for Monday was nixed due to a frozen booster valve. Starship was not carrying any people or satellites on board for the launch.

Musk, who recently acquired social media firm Twitter, had provoked unease among SpaceX and Tesla investors concerned he would be distracted from leading the two companies. The billionaire entrepreneur has nevertheless remarked that he continues to oversee Tesla and SpaceX, where the teams “are so good that often little is needed” from him. He intends to reduce the time he spends at Twitter and eventually appoint someone else to run the platform.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson congratulated SpaceX on the integrated test flight. “Every great achievement throughout history has demanded some level of calculated risk, because with great risk comes great reward,” he commented on social media. “Looking forward to all that SpaceX learns, to the next flight test and beyond.”

Musk started SpaceX with the objective of establishing permanent human settlements on Mars. He noted in an interview last year that he works roughly 80 hours each week, an arrangement he finds “pretty sustainable.”

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